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Solar Arrays Proposed For Five New London Properties

Plan calls for panels to be established in parking lots and on rooftops, with city buying electricity at a premium rate

The City Council is considering a proposal to install a series of solar power arrays on five city properties around New London.

The proposal calls for the city to lease portions of city property to Sun Edison LLC for 20 years and purchase electricity from the company at a premium rate. The city would not invest capital toward the installation of the panels, which would be completed by the autumn of 2013.

The Finance Committee and City Council took no action on the proposal, deciding to revisit it at a special meeting on May 29.

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Finance Director Jeff Smith said the city would save a projected $750,000 to $2.2 million over the next 20 years by purchasing electricity from Sun Edison at a cheaper rate than it currently pays. Andrew R. Merola, energy and program development manager of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said Enfield and East Hartford are also considering arrays.

Paul F. Curran, managing director of Sun Edison, said that while the size of some properties is limiting the number of panels that can be installed, the company would limit the size of the arrays on larger sites to provide no more than 60 percent of a nearby facility’s power. The proposed sites are:

  • A 336-kilowatt array in the parking lot of
  • A 144-kilowatt array on the roof of the
  • A 128-kilowatt array on the roof and in the parking lot of
  • A 108-kilowatt array on the roof and in the parking lot of the
  • A 48-kilowatt array in the parking lot

The parking lot arrays would be elevated 13 feet off the ground to allow vehicles to park beneath them. They are also designed to hold 51 pounds of snow per square foot and have rain and snowmelt drain toward the center. The bases are protected to withstand potential vehicle impacts.

Curran said the panels would be stationary and require little maintenance.

“The first solar panels were made about 55 years ago and they’re still in place on top of the Boston Museum of Science,” he said.

Curran said the rates the city would pay are being kept confidential since the city is applying to the Low and Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credit Program. The program, run by Connecticut Light and Power and the United Illuminated Company, has set a deadline of June 12 for request for proposals.

“It’s important to both us and the city that we keep the competitive advantage,” said Curran.

The item before the council asked the City Council to authorize Mayor Daryl Finizio to execute a contract with Sun Edison agreeing to the construction of the arrays as well as a 20-year lease and electricity purchasing agreement. The resolution said the contract would be contingent on approval from the law and finance directors as well as administrative authorizations and approvals.

Councilor Adam Sprecace said the project needs a change of use permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission to proceed, and that he wants more input from the public. He said he was also concerned with the length of the contract.

“I think it’s a little early,” said Sprecace. “I’d like to see it addressed before the clock strikes midnight [on the RFP], but there are a lot of outstanding issues.”

Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran was concerned that the agreement allows the company to use city property without paying rent. Councilor John Maynard said he thought the item should have been addressed sooner.

“If we knew there was a timeline on this, it should have been brought before the council long before tonight,” he said.

Council President Michael Passero asked the council not to reject the proposal outright, saying councilors will be able to discuss the proposed rates at an executive session on May 29.

“It’s a complicated proposal, but at the same time I don’t think we should give up on it,” he said.

The council voted unanimously to postpone the matter to its May 29 meeting.

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Doc Halliday May 23, 2012 at 01:38 PM
NOT a good idea. Who pays for repairs, replacement, power grid, etc. The technology is still not sufficient to change from fossil fuels even on a limited basis. Consider the number of days N.L. is without sunlight, the number of days ice, snow, dirt, automotive residue, or other contaminants will cover the panels.
Helen Sandalls May 23, 2012 at 01:46 PM
The piece doesn't explain the economics of the proposed solar installations - In the OLDEN days when I worked on solar and wind energy, anyone who generated electricity off-grid to feed the grid, got $$ or credit. Pretty simple. If that were true here, New Londoners would be greatly benefited. Presumably the costs and responsibilities of maintenance and repair, installation, replacement would be borne by CL&P. Will the City's rates be made public after the proposals are submitted June 12? There can't be a good reason to keep the rates secret - people should be informed about the economic and other benefits of reducing centralized electrical generation costs with solar and other renewable energy sources, and the City is in a good position to educate us all (the public). I hope it sees it that way.
Thomas Cornick May 23, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Some form of solar power, thermal or photovoltaic should be a part of of EVERY housing conservation project in New London, Renaissance City needs to be more than just wind.
Thomas Cornick May 23, 2012 at 07:10 PM
I'd like to see a few acres of the land devestated by the NLDC filled with solar arrays and providing the city with revenue
Dirk Langeveld May 23, 2012 at 08:11 PM
To answer some of the questions that have been raised in the comments: According to Sun Edison, the city would not pay for construction or maintenance or any such costs but would rather be obligated to purchase electricity at the set rate for 20 years. The reason the company says it is keeping the rates secret at this point is that it is in a competitive bid process for the Low and Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credit Program and their own proposal could be undercut by other bidders if it reveals the rates. Thus the council's reticence about committing to a contract without knowing what rate would be paid under it. They should be informed about the rates in executive session at their meeting on Tuesday, and if they agree to the contract the council or company would presumably publicize the rates after the June 12 deadline passes.
James Dixon May 23, 2012 at 09:09 PM
While I can understand why the council might want to understand the project better before making a decision, the information presented here makes it seem like a no-brainer. If the city doesn't need to provide any capital (of which it has none to spend anyways) and is likely to see energy savings of "a projected $750,000 to $2.2 million over the next 20 years" I can't think of one reason why we wouldn't do this. I would say that a council with members that are partially responsible for plunging our city into a horrible deficit amidst a recession is obligated to facilitate a project that would reduce energy costs and increase economic vitality. Aside from the readily apparent economic benefits of this project, installing PV arrays will reduce the impact of our city's energy needs and our reliance on fossil fuel and nuclear energy sources, which have been the source of many public safety concerns in recent years. PV arrays over parking structures will make them more attractive, provide shade, and reduce heat island effects. Our schools stand to benefit greatly from the shelter of PV arrays. The flat and darkly colored roofs are a huge source of heat gain in the summer months. PV arrays would offer protection from weather and reduce solar heat gain, thereby reducing cooling loads and equipment needs, saving us even more money while providing a healthy example for our youth. Lets do something good for New London's future, economically, environmentally, and socially.
James Dixon May 23, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Doc, the company would pay for repairs, replacement, installation, integration with the power grid, and the associated structural modifications. The technology has long proven effective in installations all over the world. Here are some additional points to consider http://www.brightstarsolar.net/2010/07/5-reasons-why-new-england-has-the-right-climate-for-solar/
Tambria Moore May 24, 2012 at 10:07 PM
It sounds so good. Marry the mail order bride for free before someone else snaps her up and damn the consequences. I say save up and build our solar utility with arrays and other methods, own it outright from the onset, maintain it with full ownership. It's not free, but it is free of commitment to a company that could sell same contract to another entity in the future and further gum the works up. Operating our own solar utility independently gives us the freedom to respond to competitive future rates of other power sources, change, damage or modifications to aging building structures/roof, roof liners, roof supports without excess expense (this agreement does not cover that), sales or demolition of structures, hurricane force wind damage and snow water/weight damage, political environments, etc...
Tambria Moore May 24, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Arrays do change the appearance of a neighborhood and can have glare, Fort Trumball / vacant area is a good idea. Twenty years is a long time to be contracted under a single rate. Think of the changes in technology between 1960 - 1980 or any other twenty year span. Look at the age of structures, such as the Martin Center that we even now debate demolishing and rebuiding. Think of the historic value of that building if repaired. Solar is not historic. In Nevada under a similar agreement their electric is now cheaper from another source outside of solar - but they are obligated to pay. Should we, for any reason including newer technology, decide to remove, turn off, or otherwise modify our "solar utility" at our will and without a costly bill that might perhaps duplicate our expense. Investigate first, so we don't pay later.
Daniella Ruiz June 01, 2012 at 09:17 AM
many good considerations tambria. with the rate things are changing around the world, the cost of everything will be altered up or down, at whim of events we have no control over. these proposals are indeed made with one concept in mind, and that is to assure profit for the 'installer/maintainer", as they are in the business for just that purpose, not to make life easier for NL residents! if the effort to (eventually) decrease dependence on fossil generated electricity continues, there will be plenty of opportunities pushed by the Fed's to promote alternate energy infrastructure, rebates, grants, tax incentives. god knows the nuclear options are ideal, but the anti-nuke freaks always scream louder.

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